Back in the carefree 90s, when disposable income and non-disappearing 401Ks were still the norm, hip-hop’s financial bravado seemed entirely appropriate. The bling, the champagne, the limos bursting at the seams with strippers; all of rap’s recurring motifs nicely complimented our national mood, and made us feel a little less guilty about being so obnoxiously wealthy. But then the aughts came along, with its buzz-killing recession that ate into our Cristal and stripclub budgets, and suddenly hip-hop’s never-ending party seemed a little irresponsible and show-offy. The rap community has been slow to respond to the tough economic times, but it seems inevitable that we can expect less songs like “All About the Benjamins” and “Gimme Tha Loot” and more songs like “Bitch Be Takin’ Out a Second Mortgage” and “In Hindsight I Probably Shouldn’t Have Gotten Involved in Day-Tradazizzlin’”.
Don’t tell that to Warren G. The mastermind of G-Funk—along with musical cohorts Dr. Dre and brothers Nate and Snoop Dogg—once personified the easy living and lazy confidence of a bygone era. Remember that song “Regulate” from back in ‘94? You totally do! Was there a better tune about killing busters and banging chicks set to a beat that kinda reminded you of a Michael McDonald song? Not likely. It was fun while it lasted, but who has the cash to regulate anymore? Well, Warren G, apparently. His newest album, The G Files (which “drops” next Tuesday, September 29), is boldly oblivious to the economic freefall since his chart-topping heyday. The first single is called “Swagger Rich,” for fuck’s sake. Either Warren has yet to realize that his bank account is empty or he’s a financial wizard the likes of which hip-hop has never seen before. Maybe, just maybe, his albums are like a less dense version of The Black Swan, but considerably funkier and set to a fuzzy, testicle-rattling bass.
I called Warren to find out what he knows that the rest of us don’t.
Eric Spitznagel: Both you and Snoop Dogg have new albums coming out this month. It would appear that the G-Funk brand is stronger than ever. How have you managed to do what Wall Street and the auto industry can’t?
Warren G: Man, that’s a hard one. (Laughs.) Music is a little different from the auto industry ‘cause it’s about emotions and feelings. The recession ain’t hurting hip-hop because people want to feel good. When they decidin’ how to spend their money, they gonna look for something to keep ‘em cheered up. If you makin’ records that make people feel good, boom, they’re gonna go get it. We help people get through the hard times by giving them music they can dance to and sing to and have a good time with.
So that’s why Chrysler is bankrupt? Their cars don’t have enough leg-room for dancing?
At all! (Laughs.) It’s a trip. You know that little bitty car they sell, the electric car that’s real small? You can’t even fart in that car.
During the 90s, you were rapping about “Money, cars, bitches, and drugs.” What have you cut back on because of the recession? The cars? The bitches? The drugs?
All that been cut out of my lifestyle. I’m not really trippin’ on that shit anymore.
Surely you keep a bitch or two around the crib just for old time’s sake.
It ain’t like that. You get older and realize you gotta mature. When I was young, I used to be wild, running around and all that shit. But eventually you figure out that you gotta focus on what’s around you. Musically, I still do what I do. You know what I mean? That ain’t changed a bit. I still make hits. (Laughs.) Oh, yeah!
But hits without bitches or one of them bouncy cars, doesn’t it feel kinda hollow?
Naw, man, it’s played out. I got four kids and one kid on the way. I got a whole other mission, which is to raise these kids and make sure they be something with their life. I don’t want them thinking that’s what the world is about, just throwing money in a strip joint and riding on 20-inch rims. As artists, we gotta send these kids the right message in our records. I try to do that. I got a song called “Hold On” and a song called “What’s Wrong” that talks about what we talkin’ about.
You’ve also got a new song where you boast about swaggering rich. Isn’t it a little irresponsible to flaunt your economic advantages when so many people are suffering? Or are you just expressing your consumer confidence?
That record ain’t about havin’ cash. It’s about rollin’ with the music. It’s like (rapping) “You might see me at the M-G-M Grand, make that move, shake your man, cause you lookin like oooh.” You know what I’m saying?
I have no clue what you’re saying.
I’m in Vegas havin’ some fun, she see me and cut loose on her man just to come say hi. Then I give her an autograph or a hug or something. When I say swagger rich, I’m not talking about having a million dollars worth of chain on. It’s just naturally having a swag about you. It’s not about having the money or the cars, it’s just a natural thing about you that a lady adores.
But what if you want to literally swagger rich? Do you recommend long term, conservative investments or something riskier with potentially bigger and more immediate returns?
Definitely long term. Put that shit away and forget about it. Nothin’ risky. That shit will kill you.
Should we be focusing on money over power or power over money?
Hmmm. (Long pause.) You get the power and then you get the money.
But how do you get power if you don’t have any money? Isn’t it a catch-22?
You got two options. One way to get some power is to get a bunch of gorillas and just start terrorizing the neighborhood. Then I got the power and everybody going to be respecting me.
Wait, are we talking about guerrillas with a “ue” or gorillas like the primate?
Either way, it’s all good. Or, another way to go is I put on a suit and build a lot of relationships in the ‘hood, where people really like my style and they offer me money to invest in whatever it is I’m doing. That’s the way I’d do it.
You think a tailored suit and some sound investment opportunities is a better recipe for success than an army of gorillas?
I wouldn’t do the goon part. I’d rather do the suit. Get some respect.
You can get a lot of respect with gorillas. Especially one of those big ones that can rip an arm right out of the socket.
(Laughs.) Naw, man. It’s not worth it.
Biggie Smalls once predicted that ‘mo money inevitably leads to ‘mo problems. Would you agree?
It depends. If you get the money and then you start bringing people around who are only there for the money, then you gonna have problems.
So you don’t socialize with hedge fund traders?
Exactly! You gotta set it off from the gate where it’s like, “It’s not goin’ down like that. If you need help, I’ll help you. But don’t keep comin’ back to me, asking for this n’ that, unless you’re my close family or somebody that was with me when I didn’t have shit.” When you bring in a whole bunch of new people that weren’t with you from day one, then it becomes bad.
There seems to be two radically different factions in hip-hop regarding money management. On the one hand, you’ve got Lil’ Scrappy saying “Got a bank account (cha-ching) with a large amount/ If a nigga wanna talk, nigga we can let it bounce.” But then there’s P-Diddy bragging about poppin’ bottles of Cristal and decorating his pad with colossal Picasso’s. What’s your stance? Do you believe in saving your money for a rainy day, or blowing it on champagne and Cubism?
I think you should save the money for your kids and grandkids and stuff like that. But it ain’t really a bad thing to party every now and again. If you’re makin’ a lot of money, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with partying and makin’ yourself feel good and enjoying what you worked hard for. I ain’t mad at those artists rappin’ about money. But I also think we gotta teach these kids that money ain’t what it’s all about. You gotta start being a businessman or a businesswoman. Instead of just poppin’ open bottles of Cristal, we should be teaching them about business and stuff like that. I don’t just mean in terms of the hip-hop community. I mean blacks, whites, Latinos, everybody. As a generation, we need to start leading these kids down the right path. I mean, I ain’t against the gays or nothin’.
Wait, what? You had me until the “I ain’t against the gays” part.
I ain’t against gay people. I’m just against it being promoted to kids.
I’m sorry, I don’t follow. What does the recession have to do with gay propaganda?
I know people that’s gay. My wife’s got friends that are gay. I got family that’s gay. Cousins and shit. He cool as fuck. He cool as a motherfucker. He’s my homie. I just mean that on some of these TV shows, they got dudes kissing. And kids are watching that shit. We can’t have kids growing up with that.
So you’ve got a “pot leads to heroin” theory about Hollywood homosexuality? Today there are men kissing on network TV, and tomorrow Grey’s Anatomy is all about mouth rape?
I know it happens, but let’s keep it behind the scenes. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it if that’s what two dudes wanna do. Cool. But that’s not bring that out into the world, where the kids can see that. We don’t want all the kids doing that. ‘Cause that ain’t how we was originally put here to do. Like I said, I ain’t got no problem with the gays.
Not to downplay the gay media conspiracy, but I think more people about concerned about the corruption on Wall Street. From Madoff to AIG, it doesn’t seem like there’s anybody we can trust. In this financial climate, does it make more sense to invest in Citigroup or the Crips?
Oh, hell no! Invest in the Crips? That’s crazy, man!
So you think the Bloods are a better investment?
Neither one of them! You don’t wanna get involved in any of that!
You’re not seriously suggesting buying Citigroup stock, are you?
None of that shit, man. I think this recession was all caused by these humongous corporations. Those motherfuckers got money. Even with the recession, those motherfuckers got money. But everybody use the recession as an excuse. Everybody in the music industry, they be like, “We can’t pay you. It’s the recession, it’s the recession.” Recession my ass, motherfuckers. People got to get paid for what they’re worth. You know what I’m saying? You making a hundred thousand on a show and you only be giving me some crumbs. That shit gonna run out.
Alan Greenspan recently said that “we’ve already seen the bottom” of this recession. Do you agree, or do you think we have further to fall?
I definitely think there’s hope. We at the bottom right now. We can’t do nothin’ but go up. Just as long as the plans that Obama put together get a chance to work, then hopefully we’ll be back on track. I really think the reason we’re in the position we’re in today is because all our money is being spent on a war.
You mean the war in Iraq?
All these corporations had it going on, and then Bush and the government came in and said, “We need you guys to kick in for this war.” And that’s kinda what killed us. I think America should just back up outta them people’s business. I understand what they’re doing, trying to set up their government and make sure everything is cool. But we got to get out of their business. We wastin’ all our time helpin’ out everybody else. There’s problems here too! We got to get our own problems together before we help other people. We need to pull out those troops. We can leave something over there, for the people who want to stay for a little bit.
I’m sure we’ve got a few John Rambos with psychological problems who wouldn’t mind staying and fighting an unwinnable war.
Exactly, man. Let them do what they do. But the majority of our troops, we should bring ‘em home. Cause we got young guys who are coming home depressed, committing suicide and becoming criminals. That ain’t cool, man. Their whole life is lost.
What are your thoughts on health care reform? Is it really just socialism in disguise?
You know what, man? I couldn’t even tell you. I just know they need to fix it, period. Let Obama do his thing.
Certainly nothing will be accomplished with all the shouting at those town hall meetings. The East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feuds were better behaved. Can you offer some advice on having a contrary opinion without being an asshole?
They need to sit at the coffee table and talk about it.
Why a coffee table?
Any kind of table, man. The point is, don’t let anger be a part in what you talking about. Calm down and relax. Everybody needs to go to a spa and talk about what’s bothering them while they’re getting massages or something. You know what I’m saying?
Is this just a regular massage or a massage with a happy ending?
(Laughs.) That’s up to the individual.
The federal government needs somebody like you, Warren. Would you ever consider running for office?
I definitely would! And my first day in office, I’d legalize marijuana. (Laughs.) Naw, I’m just playin’.
You wouldn’t legalize weed? Given your legal problems, I thought you’d be all for it.
What legal problems?
You don’t remember? A few summers ago? When you got busted with all that weed in your car?
That wasn’t my car. I was just a passenger. And what they found in the car, it was maybe an eighth. It wasn’t even reportable. But they wanted me to be a snitch. I said, “I ain’t tellin’ you nuthin’. If that’s what you’re after, you might as well take me to jail.” So they took me to jail.
The tabloids made it sound like you had considerably more than a dime-bag.
They made it seem like I had pounds! (Laughs.) People in my neighborhood was like, “Damn, Warren, I didn’t know you had that much weed! Why ain’t you sharin’?” But it was cool.
I don’t know if you get this a lot, but when white people over a certain age hear the name Warren G, their first reaction is usually “Do you mean Warren G. Harding?” I assume there’s no connection.
Naw, man! That’s absurd. I’m Warren Griffith the Third. I ain’t named after nobody named Harding.
So you’re never like, “I wanna give a shout-out to the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, bitches!”
Hell no! I don’t even know who the fuck Warren G. Harding was.
He was our 29th president.
Did the motherfucker have money?
Well, not big pimpin’ money, but he did O.K.
Naw, I’m just playin’. It’s like that rich kid named Warren who wrote the book. What’s his name?
Yeah! That’s my distant cousin, he need to holler at me. I want to invest with that motherfucker. (Laughs.)
I’ve got a joke for you, and I think you might know the punchline. How does Warren G keep his clothes so white?
Oh shit. How do I keep my clothes white?
Yeah. Any guesses?
(Long pause.) I don’t know.
Blee-atch. Get it?
(Laughs.) That’s a good one! Motherfucker, that’s funny!
You’re not just laughing because I’m a white guy saying “Blee-atch” are you?
Naw, man, that was good. I’m gonna use that. The whole hood’s gonna hear that one.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com